It has been a golden if sometimes very thin thread running through Irish sailing continuously since 1947. Despite the vagaries of the Irish weather and the increasing complexity of our sailing programme, absolutely every season for sixty-nine years now we’ve managed – occasionally with some difficulty – to create a viable come-all-ye-class-champions national event which rotated the venues and the boat types used. It’s an event which brings together multiple talents from many classes to produce a Champion of Champions after a hectic weekend of racing, and 2016’s edition starts this morning at the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven. W M Nixon attempts to grasp the will-of-the wisp which is the ideal that was the Irish Helmsman’s Championship and is now the ISA All Ireland Championship, and finds it’s in a bit of bother.
It’s ironic that while the publicity machine beats the drum ever-faster for the annual Endeavour Trophy, the Helmsmans Championship’s British equivalent which is being staged in England in a week’s time, here in Ireland publicity had seemed almost muted in the run-up to this weekend’s All Ireland until the news broke this week that two GP 14 sailors – including the World Champion – had declined an invitation to enter on the grounds that the event has become too out of line with other dinghy events for participation in terms of entry fee and other costs.
It’s ironic that the British Championship should be on a roll, while ours is getting the kind of publicity any iconic event could well do without, because the Irish event was introduced quite a few years in advance of the British one. And when the Endeavour Trophy was up and running properly, didn’t we send over one of our best Enterprise crews to take part, and didn’t they win it overall when Robin Hennessy and Robert Michael of Malahide won the Endeavour Trophy in 1968?
These days, the organisers of the Endeavour Trophy lay down the red carpet all the way to the RCYC in Burnham-on-Crouch in order to entice the stars of many classes to come and give of their best in the Endeavour Trophy, and said stars are treated well in the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club with an event fee of £130GBP which includes all food and accommodation in addition to entry.
But in Ireland, the RCYC – aka the Royal Cork Yacht Club - has been left out on a limb in staging the ISA All Ireland Championship 2016, so they’ve had to charge the entrants an entry fee of €220 plus an extra €1000 waiver for insurance requirement.
Now admittedly €90 of that entry fee is to cover for three at the All Ireland Dinner in the RCYC tonight, which seems to me a perfectly justifiable way to ensure that everyone is truly involved in the event in its totality. But nevertheless a modest sponsorship package would take disagreeable financial challenges out of the equation at a time of the season when many amateur sailors are just about cleaned out in the resources department. And though as we’ll see in looking down the list of participants, there are some distinctly top-end sailors involved, the essence of the All Irelands is that it should be a celebration of Irish amateur sailing sport at every level of boat expense to include the less affluent.
There was sponsorship of the event until five years ago, but once that had gone with the recession, costs for participation gradually rose. And this summer with Irish sailing attention at every level increasingly focused on the Olympics and the wonder of Annalise’s Silver Medal, it may well be that insufficient attention was being given to the fact that the up-coming All Ireland is an event which offers a very attractive and compact sponsorship package, particularly with the 70th Anniversary coming up next year.
Let’s hope securing this particular sponsorship package is work in progress. Meanwhile, after a long and exhausting season of many events, your columnist found himself energised by the thought that the All Irelands 2016 are going to staged at Crosshaven in the new Ultra National 18s. This is the next stage in a success story which has its heart and soul in Cork Harbour, and the development of this remarkable class with affordable boats is a credit to all involved, not least the Royal Cork which came up with seed money just when it was needed to bring this new Phil Morrison creation to fruition.
We think we’ve become used to the look of the new National 18s, but the other day I came across this photo of Ewen Barry’s boat in light airs, and you see things you hadn’t noticed before. It’s a timely photo to use, as Ewen has been the tops in 2016, leading the charge to the outright win by a clear margin when nine of the new Cork boats went to the big championship at Findhorn in Scotland, so naturally he’s the National 18 representative in this morning’s all-Ireland lineup, sailing for Monkstown Bay SC.
Thus he must be a favourite. But National 18 favourites can be beaten when the All Ireland is sailed in the class at Crosshaven, as happened back in 1970 when the 17-year-old Robert Dix, crewed in a very positive manner by Richard Burrows, raced a National 18 to such good effect that he became the youngest-ever Helmsmans Champion, besting the likes of Somers Payne and Harold Cudmore to do so.
He’s still the youngest-ever winner, while the first woman winner was Laura Dillon way back in 1996. But in All Ireland Helmsmans Championship terms, 1996 is only the day before yesterday, for in a series going right back to 1947 when Douglas Heard won, the outstanding feature is the longevity of the winners. Senior of all those very happily still with us is Ted Crosbie who won in 1950, while doubly awarded and still playing around in boats is Neville Maguire, winner in 1952 and 1954. Between those two wins was the still active Johnny Hooper, then in 1955 and 1960 the winner was Clayton Love, who just three weeks ago played a starring role in the IDRA 14 Class’s 70th Anniversary.
So the message is clear and simple. If you want to live long and live well, win the All Ireland Helmsman’s Championship. Here’s the lineup for this morning’s start:
Defending Champion: Anthony O’Leary RCYC; National 18: Ewen Barry Monkstown Bay Sailing Club/ RCYC; RS400: Alex Barry MBSC/RCYC; SB20: Stefan Hyde RCYC; Mermaid: Sam Shiels Skerries SC; Laser Standard: Darragh O’Sullivan Kinsale YC; IDRA14: Alan Henry Sutton Dinghy Club; Flying 15: David Gorman National YC; RS200: Neil Spain Howth YC; Shannon One-Design: Mark McCormick Lough Ree YC; ICRA Division 1: Colin Byrne Royal Irish YC; ICRA Division 2: Jonny Swan Howth YC; ICRA Divison 3: Paul Gibbons RCYC; 1720: Peter O’Leary RCYC; Laser Radial: Annalise Murphy NYC; J24: Cillian Dickson HYC.
If the weather predictions prove correct there’ll be an easing northwest to north breeze today after some early morning rain, then a rising southerly tomorrow with generally good weather, with the event ending before the next lot of wet and windy weather comes in tomorrow night. It could be an ideal mixture of conditions for a remarkable mixture of abilities, as the lineup ranges all the way from helms for the Mermaid and Shannon One Design Classes - Sam Shiels of Skerries and Mark McCormick of Lough Ree respectively – through several former winners including of course the defending champion Anthony O’Leary who is trying to make it three in a row, and on up to the exalted heights of Olympic Medaldom with Annalise Murphy.
Frankly, it’s very courageous of Annalise to let her name go forward, as the begrudgers will be looking for any slip–ups. But we know she’s a genuine sportswoman as her relaxation sailing is buzzing about in a foiling Moth which offers endless opportunities for making a holy show of yourself. So taking herself out of her Olympic Laser Radial comfort zone into a bearpit like the All Ireland race in three-person National 18s undoubtedly has class.
But whether her name will be heading for the famous salver on Sunday evening is another matter altogether. You’d be inclined to expect the name O’Leary to feature in the reckoning, but which particular O’Leary is anyone’s guess. Former winner Stefan Hyde is also a force to be reckoned with when he’s on form. In fact there are maybe seven in that list who are in with a real chance. And if it is someone outside our list who becomes the All Ireland Champion 2016, we’ll be happy to let you know and admit we got it wrong.